By Johnny Askounis/ email@example.com
Casademont Zaragoza remains focused on its mission after returning to club continental competition and joining the Basketball Champions League in 2019. The approaching Final 8 makes two in a row among the top eight teams and builds a solid case on a lasting contender in the BCL.
The head-coaching situation, with departing Sergio Hernandez and incoming Luis Casimiro, hardly affects the plan at Nizhny Novgorod, The firmly set target aims for the next step after finishing fourth in the Final 8 held in Athens early in the 2020-21 calendar to complete the 2019-20 season. The new boss is looking to extend the work of his predecessor through the bottom end of the 2020-21 campaign, including the Champions League’s season-ending tournament.
The ACB, arguably the top domestic league in Europe, is represented by three teams in the Final 8. Lenovo Tenerife and Hereda San Pablo Burgos are on the opposite side of the bracket as Zaragoza matches up versus host Nizhny Novgorod in the quarterfinals, and ERA Nymburk versus Pinar Karsiyaka in the corresponding fixture. One of the latter four teams will be part of the championship game planned to take place on May 9 and Zaragoza will be searching to trigger its berth. Before all that, a look at the exciting and unpredictable journey so far for the team of Aragon, Spain.
Following a three-year hiatus, Zaragoza, packed with improved showings at the domestic level, marched back to European competitions taking part in the 2019-20 BCL season. A 10-4 run ensured top seed in Group D of the Regular Season. The team went on to sweep Lietkabelis, 2-0, and advance to the initial best-of-three quarterfinals turned Final 8 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The team led by Diego Ocampo eliminated Tenerife before falling to host AEK, just shy of the championship game. A loss to JDA Dijon ranked them fourth.
Six months forward, Zaragoza is back in the second BCL Final 8. This time, the host, Nizhny Novgorod, jumps right up in the quarterfinals. With Hernandez in charge, a dominating 5-1 stretch secured first place in Group D of the Regular Season and a 4-2 tally in the Round of 16 earned a Final 8 spot as the Group L runner-up pushing away some negative effects of the ACB season so far.
The ultimate goal
Before and after the latest head coaching change, Nicolas Brussino, Robin Benzing, Jacob Wiley, Dylan Ennis, Elias Harris, Rodrigo San Miguel, and the remaining squad members have kept their eye on the prize of the Champions League.
“It’s very important for us to try to go all the way this year. We were so close last year coming fourth,” Ennis told Eurohoops earlier in the 2020-21 campaign. The Canadian guard and his teammates have indeed delivered on making it to the Final 8 again. Three more wins are required to be crowned champions.
Back to Russia
Zaragoza and its improved defensive efforts will be looking to avoid being knocked out by the hosts this time around. Back in January, the Spanish outlet after an extremely long trip managed to beat Nizhny Novgorod on the road to complete the regular-season sweep against its quarterfinals rivals. So, the know-how is there.
Benzing and Ennis combined for 45 points in the first Russia trip. Those two players have been rocking strong showings all season long with Ennis averaging 14.8 points, 3.4 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per appearance, and Benzing putting up 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per contest.
Wiley, a mid-season addition to replace Jason Thompson, introduced himself in the playoffs. He went for 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and 1.0 assists per game. Harris, another player coming in before the Round of 16, had 13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per match. Another highlight of the deep roster is 36-year-old San Miguel, a BCL champion with Tenerife in 2017.
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League